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A few days ago i received an email alerting me to iPubSci. This initiative is thought to be applied to scholarly publishing very much in parallel to the way iTunes has changed the way music is bought and sold over the internet. The idea is to win over corporate publishers and tell them that they can still be making money if they reduce the charge for their articles from 30-40€/$ to less then one €/$. As far as I understood their reasoning, this is because open access mandates from funders will abolish such high access fees soon anyway.
I think in principle this initiative addresses an important problem, that of access to scholarly literature, but I also think there are more sustainable ways to address this problem.
The idea in principle is good. However, the parallels to the music industry aren't really as far-reaching as one would hope.
I won't enumerate all the points where the analogy breaks down, save for one: I really can't see any rational reason why the taxpayer should pay anything for zero value. Virtually everybody significantly involved (authors, reviewers and in most cases editors) are already on taxpayer funds. The post quotes the Deutsche Bank in saying that the publishers don't really add any value to that. So why pay anything? Especially to international conglomerates who have been lining their shareholders' pockets with tax-funds for decades?
If anything, we should demand money back from corporate publishers, not finding new ways of making sure they can continue to extort the public.
Libraries should do what they've done for centuries: store and make accessible the work of their scholars. All they need are a few computers and hard-drives, which are more than paid for if they keep back the profit for the publishers.
If libraries store everything like they used to, we don't need any payment scheme: it's already paid for; and only once, not multiple times.
What such a reform/transition needs is money. Who has the money? Corporate publishers. Who do they get that money from? Libraries. This is why I'm advocating that libraries should cut subscriptions more and more and use the saved funds to create an alternative scholarly communication system in close communication with the users (us scientists). They are already starting to acquire the know-how to create and maintain LOD databases and other semantic web technology. With an expected inflow of funds exceeding 2 billion every year, they should have plenty of resources to develop this in a sustainable, persistent way.
It then is the job of scientists (like me, which is why I'm writing this) to make sure all the faculty are educated and support the libraries' while they're cutting subscriptions and access may briefly be dipping.
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